Q: Our youngest is 20 months old and REFUSES to talk. His Big Brother was singing his ABC's before he was 12 months. What can we do to encourage this more? Is this normal? He just gets upset with us when we try to MAKE him speak. All we can get out of him is random babbling. He is intelligent and SHOWS us what he wants from us. Just won't SAY it!!

A: It is typical that a child speaks in one-word sentences at the age of one, and two-word sentences at the age of two--but there is much variation in the timing of the appearance of spoken language. Boys are often slower to use words than girls and less verbal in the early years. And as you observe, children produce random babbling before they say words that are actual language. Trying to MAKE a child speak won't help (and may backfire by making the child upset), and there is little that parents should do to encourage a child to speak other than to provide ordinary love and attention, and to enjoy interacting with their toddler, playing with him, and communicating through words and gestures in the usual everyday ways. A slow-to-talk baby sometimes gives the impression that he COULD talk, if he wanted to, but is purposefully being silent. This is usually not the case however.

You might mention the lack of speech to your family doctor or pediatrician, who may want to be sure that your son's hearing is normal and that his other developmental skills are on target. If there is a problem, specific speech therapy and training by a certified specialist may be useful. But probably your son is simply developing speech on his own timeframe, and will have plenty to say down the road.

Elizabeth Berger MD

Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"

Answered by Dr. Elizabeth Berger